Death on the Prairie
Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Book #6
By Kathleen Ernst
Author’s website: www.kathleenernst.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Chloe Ellefson and her sister, Kari, have long dreamed of visiting each historic site dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder. When Chloe takes custody of a quilt once owned by the beloved author, the sisters set out on the trip of a lifetime, hoping to prove that Wilder stitched it herself.
But death strikes as the journey begins, and trouble stalks their fellow travelers. Among the “Little House” devotees are academic critics, greedy collectors, and obsessive fans. Kari is distracted by family problems, and unexpected news from Chloe’s boyfriend jeopardizes her own future. As the sisters travel deeper into Wilder territory, Chloe races to discover the truth about a precious artifact—and her own heart—before a killer can strike again.
I really enjoyed this wonderful mystery, it is ideal for this reader who would love to have been along for the Laura tour! Like most women of my generation, I grew up reading and re-reading most of the “LIttle House” series books. I didn’t begin to watch the old television show until the past few years and am an avid fan. Like many readers (or viewers), I had certain ideas about the Ingalls family based on the books or the television show. Meeting Chloe and Kari for the first time and taking this car trip with them has been a true adventure! It is the first Chloe Ellefson Mystery I’ve read, and it will not be the last. Among other things, I like the list of characters, the map of the tour, and the list of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Death on the Prairie is an exciting, engaging story, very well written. Any factual information is given almost as if it were part of a grand novel rather than what one would expect from a history tome, and the fiction appeals to a wide range of readers. Chloe Ellefson will give a presentation at one of the stops on the Laura tour, where people who are both part of a tour group and others who are traveling on their own are going to each of the site where Laura and/ or the Ingalls family lived. She invited her married sister Kari to join her. Chloe is also taking what might be a valuable quilt with her, given to her by Miss Lila, an elderly neighbor of Chloe’s parents, just before she was found dead in the course of a home break-in. The quilt may have belonged to Laura herself! Without the provenance, Chloe will do what she can to find clues about it along the way. She will work with curator at each home site/ museum to select the future home of the quilt, per Miss Lila’s request, as well.
At the very start of the tour, a man is found dead; Chloe learns later that he is an important member of the upcoming symposium. As the tour continues, Chloe sees and hears many disconcerting things – that the tour leader is keeping secrets with someone, and something is going on with her sister Kari that she refuses to talk about. Incidents occur that, taken separately, seem like accidents. It begins to appear that something more sinister is going on.
The setting is 1983, in the Midwest US. It is a time before cell phones and internet were widely available. Fax machines with curling thermal paper, telephones, and land or air delivery routes are the only means of communicating with one’s family or office when away from home. It may not be a gentler time, but it is definitely a slower-paced time where one could actually go into a restroom without texts, pagers, and cell phones ringing. But if one has a murderer or thief following them, they have fewer communication options!
Chloe is very well-defined, as is her boyfriend Roelke. Kari doesn’t easily share her thoughts with anyone until her family is endangered. The people who are the Laura tour are interesting; some are as eccentric as anyone who makes an idol of another person. They are as mysterious or as open as their role requires. Needless to say, some of these folks will surprise the readers! We will also see sufficient intricacies of relationships to consider our own.
The plot is multi-tiered and fascinating, beginning with the mystery of the quilt, then add who might have broken into Miss Lila’s and caused her death. Continuing on we see the mysterious deaths and incidents that occur throughout the Laura tour as Chloe’s mind is whirling with the possibilities. Today we could be hunting the internet for answers about the people and places involved, but Chloe had her logical, history-focused mind, phone calls to professional associates, and what she observes each day. This reader was surprised to find out some of the hidden layers of mysteries as well as confused from trying to guess who the bad guys / gals were. I confess that I was stumped, and definitely stunned to see the full outcome! The resolutions and conclusion were satisfying, however, and I would highly recommend this novel of mystery and suspense to those who appreciate well-written mysteries with interesting characters, history, and a little romance.
A word of caution is that I would not recommend this for younger teens due to a little of the content and if they are sensitive to finding out some of the truths about the historical characters who they might have on a pedestal. Earlier this year I listened to a novel about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and had the air sucked from a few of my illusions, and a couple more illusions were set aside in this novel. I wouldn’t have missed Death on the Prairie, however, and even with what I know now, I would still be eagerly reading it! As a result, I want to re-read the Little House series and appreciate more fully the scenes that Chloe and Kari could quote from the series of books. As the demonstrated, the series isn’t just for children!